Belfast Telegraph

Republic face Paris match for Cup glory

It was the opposition they wished to avoid in the scenario they simply did not want. That's the bottom line.

Before yesterday's eagerly anticipated World Cup playoff draw in Zurich, the Republic’s management were keen to steer clear of France and eager to play the decisive second leg in Dublin. They managed neither.

The nature of football, of course, is that by November 14, when the first leg takes place in Croke Park, Irish fans will have convinced themselves of numerous reasons why they can knock France out of the way and march onto South Africa next summer.

However, the stark reality is that Giovanni Trapattoni's charges will have to produce two performances above and beyond anything they have achieved thus far to eliminate the former world champions.

Trap’s assistant, Liam Brady, is of the opinion that the Italian side which Ireland twice drew with in Group Eight are a stronger unit than Les Bleus and there is merit to the argument.

France have better individuals but an insecure manager in Raymond Domenech and some equally unpredictable results to match. Unlike the Azzurri, they do not carry a reputation for getting the job done no matter the circumstances.

Nevertheless, they possess numerous big-game players with the ability to turn tight games in an instant. The Republic, on the other hand, have proven they are capable of holding vaunted opposition but a serious question mark hangs over their ability to beat them.

The rules of engagement next month are markedly different to those which existed ahead of the scoreless draw in Paris in the early stages of the World Cup 2006 qualifying campaign.

“These games are like cup finals,” said Trapattoni yesterday after watching the draw at home in Italy. “We have done well so far, but over the 180 minutes we must give something additional, and we will have to be even more concentrated and focused than we have been until now.

“We always made clear that we would have preferred to play our first leg away from home for that

reason which now makes it very important not to concede at home in the first leg. But you should also remember that our away form shows that we are capable of getting results away from home.”

Avoiding the concession of an away goal at Croker is paramount for the Republic in their approach to this tie and it will be a fascinating to see what Trapattoni targets from the initial meeting. His penchant for caution is well documented and there's a theory which suggests it could be suited to travelling second.

Brady cited the fact that Scotland twice beat the French during the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

“They have some of the best attacking players in the world, but they haven't got the defenders of the calibre they once had. They have conceded goals and I remember in the last campaign that Scotland went to Paris and beat them. So it can be done.”

Whether their deficiencies are significant enough to open the door for the Republic is another matter. For now, they will look forward with hope rather than expectation.

Play-off draw

Draw for the World Cup European qualifying play-offs, to be played over two legs on November 14 and 18:

Republic of Ireland v France;

Portugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina;

Greece v Ukraine;

Russia v Slovenia.

Belfast Telegraph


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